The Afghan Transitional Administration continued recruiting and training a new Afghan National Army (ANA). As of August 2003, 4000 members had been recruited, although numbers were slated to increase to 70,000 by 2010.9 The United States-led international coalition continued to train new recruits, along with the United Kingdom and France. There was no indication of under-18s serving in the new government force. In May a presidential decree prohibited the recruitment of children and young people under the age of 22 to Afghanistan’s National Army.10 On 24 September the transitional government announced Afghanistan’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC-OP-CAC).
Armed opposition forces contributed to increasing insecurity, especially outside Kabul. The Taliban continued to be active in the southeast and east of the country. Hundreds of thousands of armed combatants remained with private militia groups engaged in inter-factional fighting, which escalated in recent months.11 In some areas there were reports that armed groups abducted women and girls.12 Many children, especially boys, transported small arms and drugs across the border to the North West Frontier Province. Some former child soldiers saw this as an alternative source of income to support their families.13
The US military acknowledged that at least three children, aged 13 to 15, were among the detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It said they were believed to have participated in armed conflict in Afghanistan.14 Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups criticized the detention of the children, stating that child detainees should be charged with a recognizable offence, provided with full judicial safeguards and transferred to a suitable juvenile detention facility.15 The US government described the children as “very, very dangerous people”,16 but the US military official in charge of the Guantanamo operations, General Geoffrey Miller, was reportedly seeking to have the children released in recognition of their age and co-operation.17
The Afghan Transitional Administration, in collaboration with the UN, was expected to launch a three-year disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program in July.18 The US Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded a US $2 million grantto the NGO Consortium for the Psychosocial Care and Protection of Children, comprised of the Christian Children's Fund, the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children Federation, to assist particularly vulnerable Afghan children including former child soldiers.19 Afghan President Hamid Karzai has predicted that it will take no more than a year to disarm former Afghan combatants, estimated at 100,000, but has said that demobilization and reintegration will take longer.20 In April 2003, Afghan militia commanders agreed to cooperate with the central government on rebuilding the national army.21 However, as of August 2003, disarmament in northern Afghanistan had failed because of reluctance on the part of many militia commanders to disarm.22
In mid-2003, UNICEF estimated that around 8,000 child soldiers had been informally demobilized but not fully reintegrated into society.23 In some areas demobilized child soldiers have returned home but face problems reintegrating in the absence of vocational training and psychosocial support. In the light of the deteriorating security situation in the provinces, children are at risk of re-recruitment by non-state armed groups.24
9 IRIN, “Focus on the new national army”, 5 June 2003.
11 IRIN, “Focus on the new national army”, 5 June 2003.
12 Amnesty International, “Afghanistan – Out of sight, out of mind: The fate of the Afghan returnees”, 23 June 2003.
13 Save The Children Alliance’s Concerns Regarding Children’s Rights In Afghanistan, March 2003.
14 Human Rights Watch, Letter to Secretary Rumsfeld on Child Detainees at Guantanamo, 24 April 2003.
15 Amnesty International, Press Release, 23 April 2003. HRW, Letter to Secretary Rumsfeld on Child Detainees at Guantanamo, Human Rights Watch Urges Child Protections, 24 April 2003.
16 Toby Harnden, “US defends imprisoning child 'killers',” telegraph.co.uk, 26 April 2003, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/04/26/wguan26.xml.
17 BBC, “Guantanamo may free children”, 22 August 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3172617.stm
18 Amnesty International, “Afghanistan – Out of sight, out of mind: The fate of the Afghan returnees”, 23 June 2003; Reuters, “Afghans, UN launch crucial disarmament plan”, 6 April 2003.
19 Christian Children’s Fund, “ CCF Receives USAID Grant to Provide Assistance for Afghanistan's Most Vulnerable Children”, April 13, 2003 at www.christianchildrensfund.org/about_ccf/Press_Releases/USAID_Afghanistan
20 AFP, “Afghan ex-combatants to be disarmed in a year, Karzai says”, 21 February 2003.
21 IRIN, “Focus on the new national army”, 5 June 2003.
22 UN OCHA, “Afghanistan: Demobilisation conference expected to boost security”, 20 February 2003.
23 Information received from UNICEF, July 2003.
24 Save The Children Alliance’s Concerns Regarding Children’s Rights In Afghanistan, March 2003.